Anger –Let’s Get a Grip

I was an angry teen and that anger only escalated in my 20s. I wouldn’t even call it anger by then, as it was more of a rage within. I believe there is a big difference between being mad and being angry.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anger as: A strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism. (( You could hear the anger in his voice.)) — ((She found it hard to control her anger.)) 2. Rage — a: violent and uncontrolled anger. b: a fit of violent wrath.

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You might be wondering what this has to do with health and wellness. A lot really. Whole body health includes the brain and how we “think” effects our whole body health.

When our emotional health suffers so does our physical health. We’re so busy with the negative feelings we often avoid taking care of our self. We may avoid exercising and we often turn to unhealthy comfort food rather than a good meal. Some will turn to or increase smoking or drinking.

The constant turmoil within can lead to all kinds of health issues. The longer we stay in a negative emotional state the worse they can get. It can include headaches, back pain, chest pain, constipation, diarrhea, change in appetite, fatigue, insomnia, upset stomach and high blood pressure.

My Anger Story

Anger can be harmful or helpful, depending upon how it is expressed. With mild to moderate anger ( I call that mad) we might be able to recognize and express it appropriately. That wasn’t me thou. I went right past the “mad” stage directly to angry.

Some of the medical and psychiatric suggestions are things like — #1. Prescription drugs. #2. When you start feeling angry, try deep breathing, positive self-talk, or stopping your angry thoughts. Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase and repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply until the anger subsides. #3. Look for the support of others. Talk about your feelings and try to work on changing your behaviors –and– if you have trouble realizing when you are having angry thoughts, keep a log of when you feel angry and try to find the triggers.

Personally I have to laugh at these suggestions. I don’t believe anyone who is truly angry — can or will stop to take deep breaths, think about relaxing words to repeat or stop to write it in a journal. Some of these things may work well for those with mild anger issues (mad) and even then, it’s a temporary fix. It’s a tamping down of the emotions that will, most likely, build until we blow. And… I can tell you from experience that during my angry bouts, none of these things would have been a consideration. I simply wanted to blow up and generally did.

Suppressed anger is just as bad. Some, try to control their anger. While it might be possible, at times, to tamp it down a notch or two, basically trying to “control anger” is never going to happen. If nothing is done about it, it nearly always builds and builds until we explode and do or say something we may regret for the rest of our lives. And that cycle repeats over and over.

Anger issues can and often do lead to alcohol and/or drug abuse which then compound the problem and make it even worse. As it happened in my case, I turned to booze and then things got far worse. I was mean and destructive. Family and friends avoided me and with the anger came all kinds of rejection from others. It only made everything worse.

I will share something l learned nearly 40 years ago and has worked very well ever since. It was the best “anger management” tool I could have ever found.

I was visiting with an older fellow one day and the discussion turned to anger. I think he led it there as he knew about my anger issues. He told me about his own past and it sounded a lot like mine, maybe even worse. It was quite a story. He also told me he had not had to deal with anger any longer and hadn’t in 20 years. Wow, this kind of got my attention. I mean, I was not so far gone that I didn’t realize that my anger was ruining my life in so many ways. Having family and friends scared to even be around me was an issue but of course I blamed them rather than myself. So, I had to ask him how.

Here is what he told me: “Anger is only a cover up for what we are feeling. Its a tool we use to escape the real feeling because we are overly sensitive and to fearful to face the truth.” Ok, that just made me mad right there. I was in no way fearful, nor was I any sensitive pansy. I was one tough cookie and I told him so. He laughed and said … “Yep, so was I.

I decided to listen to what he had to say even thou I had already made up my mind that if he was going to keep eluding to the idea that I might be sensitive or fearful then I was out of there.
He explained that nearly always his anger was fired by something that another person said or did. Their words or actions. He paused and sipped his coffee while I mulled that over for a few minutes.

THEN — he elaborated on that. He brought up examples of a lady turning him down for a date, a loved one making a criticism. He said even a simple suggestion that he try something different from the way he was doing a thing could set him off. A banker did not give him a loan he wanted. His kids did not like his vacation ideas. His boss wanted him to add to his work load. His cousin criticized his parenting methods.

Well dang. Those things would make me angry too. I told him I thought he was justified in his anger.

He said no, not really because the real issue was not anger but the “feeling” that brought it on. When the lady turned him down for a date he felt rejected and hurt. When the loved one criticized him he felt unworthy and less than. When someone suggested doing something a different way he felt inferior. When the banker didn’t give a loan he felt rejected and disappointed. When the kids didn’t like his vacation idea it was again with the rejection and hurt. His cousins criticism of his parenting skills make him feel unworthy and less than. His boss loading him with more work made him feel used.

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His own EGO and false pride made him wonder who all these people thought they were to cast criticism his way. He said he always mounted his pompas high horse, picked up his sword and went on the defensive.

He explained that all of these feelings lead him to be angry because he was so sensitive to what others thought of him and also he was fearful of facing the REAL feelings. He said it was easier to jump right past the honest truth to being angry. Everyone shut up when he got angry. He didn’t have to have a civil conversation when angry. He didn’t have to face facts when angry. He didn’t have to look at himself when angry. He could always blame others when he was angry.

I asked “so what changed?” He said two very important things that I remembered from that day forward. I think he said a lot more but it was these two things I remember. #1. I got honest with myself. Anger was only a cover up for a negative feeling I did not want to look at. #2. I got tired of giving all these other people that kind of power over me.

BAM…. The power thing hit me hard. I was allowing others to dictate my feelings and actions. I was giving them a lot of power over me. Wow, that needed to stop right now. And if facing the REAL feelings was what needed to be done to make it stop then by gosh.. I would find the honesty and the courage to do so. I swore, right then and there that I would never hand over that kind of power to others ever again. I was quite aghast that I had been doing so for years.

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But how I asked? He explained how it worked for him. You have to stop using the word angry to describe how your feeling. Before it gets there – pause and then ask yourself -how does it make me feel? (remember, you cannot use the word angry).. but rather.. the feeling/emotion you feel from what they did or said.. Hurt, frustrated, rejected, sad, belittled, demeaned.. etc.… and now you have the REAL issue. Deal with that.

Everytime you begin to feel “angry” .. do it immediately, before you open your mouth or raise a fist..

Lets say a loved one said something to us and right away we started to boil.. QUICK, (without using the word angry).. we ask ourselves how did that make me feel? – Rejected? Hurt? Belittled? By finding the answer we have already avoided the escalation to anger.

Ok, I told him, so now that I know the real feeling what do I do about it? Because I knew that if I did not take some action to relieve the hurt feelings I would still end up angry. “Get honest” he said. Then he gave me a simple example of his grown son saying something to him that cut him pretty deep. I really had been a rude thing to say. I sat waiting with bated breath as to how he responded to that because I visualized myself own response.

The fastest way to move right past this is to tell the person honestly and immediately“That was a hurtful thing to say and I feel sad about it.” Their response doesn’t matter. What matters is you just dealt with the problem immediately and honestly. You did not have to stuff it or let it escalate.

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Who wants to admit someone hurt our feelings? Even if we are willing to admit it to ourselves we sure don’t want to admit it to the other person. He replied — that is true when we have to big an ego and carry around false pride. He Continued: There is nothing at all wrong with telling someone how you feel about their words or actions. And we don’t need to put any expectations in there either. Their response doesn’t matter because we are simply taking care of our self. We have recovered the power to control our own emotions and the anger has no reason to manifest itself.

I have always been thankful for that discussion all those years ago. I no longer have to give others that kind of power over me. Others words or actions cannot MAKE me act out in anger unless I want to give them the power to do so. Developing that kind of honesty hasn’t hurt anything either. Oh I am not saying I never get mad. I do. For me, mad is a whole different thing than “angry.” Mad is where I can pause to think things thru and make a rational choice. I do not have to let it escalate. It is a welcome freedom.

I will leave you with the last thing he said to me that day. “Give it a try, what have you got to loose?

Author: Linda Carlson – Certified Nutrition & Wellness Counselor (retired)

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